Kenzo revealed recently that it will combine its men’s and women’s shows into one. This news followed a near-identical announcement from Bottega Veneta and one from Calvin Klein – albeit the latter comes with a twist, as Raf Simons makes his highly anticipated debut for the New York-based brand in February. In doing so, these brands join the ranks of many others that have all recently publicized impending changes to their normal fashion show protocols and retail distribution models, and have all attempted to make the most of the field day that the fashion press tends to make of such declarations.
See Now-Buy Now, Couture or No Couture, Seasonal or Season-less?
Over the past year or so, Alexander Wang, Antonio Marras, Balenciaga, Balmain, Brioni, Burberry, Cedric Charlier, Claire Barrow, DVF, Karen Walker, Marcelo Burlon, Michael Kors, Nonoo, Paco Rabanne, Paul Smith, Prada, Proenza Schouler, Public School, Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, Topshop, Vetements, and Wes Gordon, among others, have all announced logistical alterations – such as the adoption of a “See Now-Buy Now model,” the integration of men’s and women’s collections into a single show, the decision to opt out of a couture show, and the move towards season-less collections/runway shows – to their existing models.
These somewhat drastic moves were interesting and dare I say … exciting at first, and chances are, still may be interesting/exciting for many. For instance, this past February, Burberry and Vetements led the way by declaring that it would make runway show and runway-to-retail modifications. A year later, the regular reporting of these now completely ordinary changes is still underway.
Like the seemingly never-ending game of musical chairs that is being played by the industry’s creative directors and fashion executives, these runway and retail adjustments have become a consistent form of highly click-able industry “news.”
The initial introduction of “See Now-Buy Now” – a tactical move aimed at speeding up the transition of garments and accessories from the runway to retail stores to meet the demands of what we are told are “increasingly impatient consumers for the newest designs” – was also interesting. The widespread decision to implement the “See Now-Buy Now” model has proved enticing in that it sheds light on the evolving time frame (and increasing expectations of immediacy) of the fashion industry as impacted by the grip that social media maintains on our lives.
See Now-Buy Now is a compelling development for another reason, too. It stands to demonstrate just how out of touch the fashion industry really is with the consumer - the average one who is under the impression that whatever they are buying at Macy’s, Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s at any given time is the newest thing.
With this in mind, we have argued before that the development of a See Now-Buy Now model is rather nonsensical. While it makes sense to align the runway show with the sale of the goods that appear on the runway (mainly to enable brands to more significantly bank on the press drummed up in connection with such events), it likely will not fix the industry’s problems, namely, that consumers are not shopping and if they are, they are certainly not buying anything at full price.
The Incessant Game of Musical Chairs
Similarly, the accelerating pace of the creative director tenure at design houses was initially quite intriguing. As the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman pointed out last year, the once customary ten-year term – as observed by Riccardo Tisci, Alber Elbaz, Karl Lagerfeld (if you multiply that number by 5 for Fendi and 3 for Chanel), Marc Jacobs when he was at Louis Vuitton, and co. – has changed to roughly three years (or even less in some cases).
Hedi Slimane (left YSL in after just four years), Raf Simons (opted to leave Dior after three), Alexander Wang (was ousted from Balenciaga after less than three years), Alessandra Facchinetti (Tod’s), Stefano Pilati (Zegna), Brendan Mulane (he was at Brioni), Danielle Sherman (who was at Edun), Alexis Martial and Adrien Caillaudaud (who were at Carven), Justin O’Shea (he succeeded Mulane at Brioni and left after a record-breaking 6 months), Peter Copping (who was at Oscar de la Renta), and Arnaud Maillard and Alvaro Castejón (from Azzaro) have all departed their positions in accordance with what would have previously been an unheard of timetable.
This metric – which undoubtedly speaks of issues at the core of the current fashion model, often tied to the rapid rate at which collections are created and the myriad of hats that creative directors are expected to wear – certainly allows for a nearly unending array of media attention. Such press opportunities are important; they sustain the industry at least in part these days. The turnaround also speaks of grim realities not only for fashion design but for fashion publishing, as so many articles have stated in the past.
Are the luxury conglomerates really demanding too much from these creatives to keep them in place even given their handsome salaries and large teams? Are the quarter-annual (F/W, S/S, Pre-Fall, and Resort) designs themselves not interesting enough to captivate our collective attention for more than a day or two? Or do we all just too distracted by the massive amount of media that we consume daily – including fake news, Kardashians, and Trumps – and the reality television show-like existence that we call reality in the U.S. – and beyond – to be interested in something as simple as fashion for its own sake?
Keeping Up With the Fashion Industry
These possibilities are likely all true to an extent. But there is arguably something else at play here: We demanded that the fashion industry constantly be Keeping Up With the Fashion Industry and consistently staging an off-the-runway show for us to tune into after work or on our lunch breaks (via social media, of course).
We have in place the workings of a well set reality show with a cast of social media stars (Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing is by far the most representative of this character with the “social media models” – Bella, Gigi, Kendall and co. – taking a close second place) and a slew of dramatic exits (a la Nicolas Ghesquire, who left Balenciaga in 2012 only to be sued for speaking ill of the company; and Raf Simons getting the boot from Jil Sander and everyone crying, including a model, mid-runway walk and Simons during his final bow)?
We have financial and workplace drama (Did Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana really fail to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes? LVMH secretly built up a stake in Hermes to incite a hostile takeover? Do Alexander McQueen and Versace really discriminate against non-white employees?).
Do not overlook the massive meltdowns (think: Alexander McQueen, Christophe Decarnin, John Galliano, etc.); highly suspenseful job swaps (Who will replace Galliano at Dior?! Is Hedi Slimane going to Chanel?! Alber Elbaz got fired from Lanvin?!); and eventful debuts (who could forget the massive media-made rivalry that accompanied the 2012 debuts of Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane – complete with a lot of dramatic side-by-side imagery of the two?). And then there are the ugly legal battles. Louboutin vs. YSL, Hedi Slimane vs. YSL, and Carolina Herrera vs. Oscar de la Renta, anyone?
All of events are intensified by the media, as indicated by the truly countless articles, tweets, Instagram posts, and Vine videos (RIP) dedicated to the aforegoing, often complete with utterly click-baity headlines and ties – somehow!! – to the Kardashians.
To be fair, fashion has not been about the fashion for a long time, and it would be naïve to say it has been. It just, perhaps, was not as elaborate a soap opera-meets-reality television show complete with Snapchat and a ton of merch posing as Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer collections.
Unlike Bieber’s merch, the fashion industry’s merch is not explicitly labelled as such. Instead, it is presented as seasonal collections. But most people are really just buying into whatever garments and accessories are being put forth by the most relevant characters in the industry’s ever-unfolding dramatic plot (namely, Alessandro Michele, Demna Gvasalia, Hedi, etc. on the heels of the height of Riccardo Tisci's relevance and the widespread obsession with street goth). They are not always buying based on design or quality. So, is it really all that different than buying a Yeezy concert tee or a Hamilton sweatshirt?
Note: The increasing fame of individual creative directors – for simply being creative directors and not necessarily for their work – has been in the making for quite a while, beginning largely with the likes and Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford and co., who stepped out of the shadows of the designer role and became stars, in part because design houses began positioning them as stars as they sought out headlines as a means of boosting sales.
Fast forward to today and this means maintaining brand AND personal social media accounts and documenting everything, and gaining a following of adoring fans in the process.
Fashion: A Reflection of the Now
In all seriousness, the elaborate ecosystem (read: stage production) that we know as the current condition of the fashion industry actually does make sense. Fashion is, after all, one of the most immediate reflections of the state of world at any given time. This has always been the case; Coco Chanel was inspired by women’s liberation when she shifted the aesthetic for women beginning in the early 1900’s. Christian Dior, himself, reacted to the World War II practice of rationing of textiles by introducing an excessive use of fabric shortly thereafter.
More literal examples take the form of Jeremy Scott’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection inspired by the Arab Spring, which, of course, just preceded Scott’s September 2012 show. There was also Karl Lagerfeld’s over-the-top supermarket show set for Chanel, which served as a comment on the state of consumption. The list goes on.
Today, given the dire economic uncertainty that was at a unprecedented high (for recent times, at least) in 2008 – complete with widespread unemployment and home foreclosures – and which still haunts us, albeit to a lesser extent; the truly striking race relations in the U.S., which are – at best – utterly heartbreaking and at worst – downright fatal; the election and the Presidential elect; the grave situation in Aleppo; and the general state of international relations, it is a completely logical notion that consumers crave distractions … entertainment.
We are consistently told by market analysts that consumers are seeking experiences and not merely products. I, for one, thought that meant vacations or wellness-inspired activities, and did not necessarily think that meant industry-wide theatrics, but it seems that we might just want both.
So, stay tuned. The roles of CEO for Céline and Karl Lagerfeld’s successor at Chanel - and rumor has it, creative director of Givenchy - are still being cast, but will certainly make their stage debuts very soon. Up next week: Who will replace Alexandra Shulman as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue?!